Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: life (page 1 of 7)

Life with Mother

The best lesson that I can teach you, after eight successful years in blogging and social media, is the supreme importance of communicating the positive message of your personal brand. Unfortunately, today is not the day for this lesson.

Today I want to remind you that I live with my mother.

Last night, I wrote this status update on Facebook —

“In October, my mother is having a big birthday and she was thinking of celebrating by going with her friend, another woman in her 70s, on some dull cruise, something they already did twice before.

“Forget the cruise,” I said. “Why don’t you go somewhere that you always wanted to go but never had a chance, and go there NOW, while you’re still healthy enough to travel?”

So, for ten days in October, I’ll be accompanying my mother and her friend — to — yes, Paris.

My mother is so excited. But she’s worried now that I won’t find us a place to stay and we’ll be wandering the streets. So, if anyone knows of a good apartment to rent in October for three adults, maybe two bedrooms, please tell me.”

People were very generous, sending me all sorts of links to apartment rental agencies and friends with apartments in France. But later that night, I thought to myself —

“I must be perceived as a very weird guy. I’m always talking about my mother. I am going to Paris with my mother. I am living with my mother in New York. When I think of men who live with their mothers, even on a temporary basis, I immediately think of Norman Bates in Psycho. I must really appear f*cked up. You know, maybe I am f*cked up.”

Now, some of you I have successfully fooled, especially those who follow me on Instagram. I post so many glamorous photos of New Yorkers on Fifth Avenue, that you’d think I spend my nights at parties with Gwyneth Paltrow and Sting.

No, I’m in Queens, with my mother.

If you met me, you would think I was fairly normal. Not completely normal, but mostly normal. At least, I don’t think I would scare you.

Here’s how it goes. I come and go from my mother’s apartment when I want. My mother has her life. I have mine. We treat each other like two adults. We’ve even watched R-rated movies on HBO together, and no one blinked an eye!

Of course, both my mother and I know that this arrangement is not healthy in the long run. She can’t wait until I leave and start a normal life again. And I can’t wait until I have a place of my own, living a normal life again. As much as we try to be “roommates” over the last few months, a mother and son will always be a mother and son.

If I am in Manhattan at midnight, I still call her up to say that I am not dead on the 14th Street subway platform, the same thing I would do at age thirteen, except back then, it was on a pay phone, not an iPhone. There are also some mornings where I wake up to discover an umbrella hanging on my doorknob, a reminder from my mother that Al Roker said it was going to rain today.

I know it’s all a little weird. I’m here to own it. I can’t be a personal blogger if I don’t talk about my personal life.

I’m an only son, and I’ve always been close to my mother, particularly after my father passed away. But I’ve never considered myself a typical momma’s boy, or my mother the type of overbearing Jewish mother you would see in sitcoms (even if I sometimes portray her that way on my blog).

The instability of my marriage with Sophia took a toll on me. Like a ping-pong ball, I went back and forth from Los Angeles to New York for the last two years, depending on the current state of our marital relationship. All this turmoil also had me wasting a lot of money, flying back and forth, and putting stuff into storage. And since I couldn’t afford two apartments in two cities, I stayed in my mother’s place, my childhood home, when I was in New York. It worked out well because during the winter, the apartment was empty while my mother rented a place in Boca Raton, Florida. She went to Florida. I stayed here.

In many ways, the experience of spending more time with my mother in New York has been an enriching one. Not many of you get to experience a truly honest and adult relationship with the woman who brought you into the world.

But there is also a darker side to this. I have been plagued with doubt and anxiety over the last few years, which makes it difficult for me to make a decision of where I want to go next. It’s not as if I don’t have confidence in what I do. I have strong writing and work experience, but most of my contacts are in Los Angeles, not New York. And I just feel happier in New York. But my bank account is getting in trouble, and it time to take action.

And then — the biggest question of them all — what about the beautiful, intelligent woman that I met in — of all places — New Zealand?

I am at a crossroads between divorce, starting over, career change, and the need for more money. I’m not even sure freelance writing is a sustainable job for me anymore. My health insurance alone is costing me $800 a month, and I’m thinking of taking on a paying job, with health insurance, just another one of my poorly timed decisions — looking for work during a terrible economy, while thousands of younger and cheaper recent graduates hit the streets. So, I sit here and think. And worry. Less about how you perceive me, than how I perceive myself.

I have a vague feeling that someone is going to hold me in disdain after reading this post. Or one of my old trolls will return, the one who usually reappears only when I seem vulnerable.

“Talk about first world problems,” she will say. “Who cares about your petty life when Turkish students are fighting for their democratic rights?!”

We tend to have sympathy for underdogs, except for when the villain is the main character’s own brain. And almost all of my issues are based on my own decision, action, or inaction.

Why did I move to Los Angeles and pursue the entertainment business if I didn’t intend to stick it out living in Los Angeles?

Why did I stay in such a a unsatisfying marriage for so long?

Why don’t I just shut up, get a normal paying job and move into your own apartment like a normal person?

Don’t you realize how much privilege you are squandering as a straight white male who has the world at his feet?

Why don’t I just get off Facebook and write a novel and sell it rather than talking about writing so much?

Why did I connect with Juli in New Zealand to only leave her stranded with your indecision?

Who goes to Paris with their mother?

Believe me, I ask these questions of myself. I’m hard on myself. But I’m OK with living in a world where my mind is in flux. I’ve been living with myself for a long time, so I know how I work. I’m living this life as best as I can. Eventually, I’ll figure it out. Even if it makes me seem a little weird. I am a little weird. I can’t change that. Better you know the real me than a fake one. I know, I know. Fake it Until you Make It. But not on my blog.

As I started saying in the beginning, I understand how “branding” works. I am suppose to appeal to your aspirations. To be influential. My aim is to make you want to “be” me — to inspire you! “Look at me. I’m having lunch with some popular person at a fancy restaurant!”

The internet is all about promoting success. I look forward to the day that I can write the tweet announcing the million dollar screenplay sale. I hope to wow you with more sexy stories about my adventures with Juli in New Zealand. I can’t wait to make you jealous with my Instagram photos of the party I attended at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Gwenyth Paltrow and Sting. I know you want that for me. But right now, I can’t. This is how it is, right now, in June 2013.

Hang on while I try to figure out the next step. I’m sorry I can’t give you any more “added value” than I currently have.

But one thing I do know — and I say this with more pride than shame — in October, I will have photos of Paris with my mother.

The Photo of the Sunset

I unfollowed everyone on Twitter, and then slowly re-followed everyone back. I brought the final divorce paperwork to the court, and then got it returned by mail because I was missing one of the forms. I grew a beard, and then sheared it off like the wool of a sheep, feeling the facial hair too hot to wear in the summer. My life is in constant flux.

Yesterday, I stood at the water’s edge and waited for the day to end. I had my iPhone in my hand. For years, I had made fun of the cliched photograph of the sun setting into the Pacific. But I wanted to try to capture it myself, just to see what made it so special.

As the afternoon shifted into evening, the sky above the Pacific was painted by nature’s brush in the bright color of a tangerine. A red-yellow neon shimmer took to the water, dancing with the waves. I started shooting, almost 200 photos in all, never stopping my thumb from clicking on the iPhone screen, except for that one brief moment when a buxom woman in a bikini passed by my view.

As evening turned to night, the sky turned into a rainbow of colors. At “photo 95” the sky darkened, and the atmosphere grew ominous, as if the world was going to end. At “photo 110” the vibrancy picked up, as if God was running his artistic creation through his own Instagram filter.

But I found the exact moment of sunset, the dipping of the life force into the horizon, a disappointment. I preferred the imagery when the sun was at a 45-degree angle and the blue of the sky was sprinkled with hot flames diffused by the clouds.

At the end of the night, when I looked over the photos, most of the shots were “nice,” except for the one or two shots where my finger got in the way of the lens. But none were perfect. Even my favorites of the bunch, “photo 61” and “photo 101” had flaws. When the ocean bristled with energy in one photo, the sky faded into the background. When the sky exploded with color in another photo, the sea darkened in the foreground. It was impossible to capture the momentum of the sunset in one shot. Maybe that is the ultimate challenge of it all. The event was one of movement, of flux, of time, the ebbing and flowing of the water, the shining and dimming of the light. Never static, like life.

Nothing To Say

Have you noticed how infrequently I have been blogging? I’m afraid the competition in the blogosphere market is getting to me.   There are so many other others out there with something to say — celebrities, comedians, professional authors, journalists, individuals who have overcome incredible obstacles — that I just don’t think my voice matters anymore.   My life is not that interesting.  Some of have lives worthy of memoirs.   The rest of us live small, forgettable existences.

Luckily, I have friends who have lives worth caring about, like my long-time friends, Noel and Joy, who recently had a beautiful baby girl in New York.  I was lucky to visit them at their Upper West Side apartment a few days before my flight to Los Angeles.  Their baby was only two weeks old, so small, but so cute.  As I admired their new member of the family, the remaining piece of her umbilical cord few off.  I found this disturbing since I assumed the doctors already finished the job at the hospital. After all, my health insurance rates are so high, I assume the money pays for something.  Leaving part of the umbilical cord on is something you might expect in Canada, but not in the good ol USA!

Joy explained that this was quite normal.  This did little to calm my nerves. I decided to take a cab to my next destination, an Italian restaurant in Harlem, to meet friends for dinner. I bought a bottle of wine for the occasion.

When the cab reached the restaurant, the fare on the meter was seven dollars. I gave the cabbie a ten dollar bill.  He was under the wrongful assumption that I was giving him a three dollar tip.   I explained that I wanted change, and he started cursing at me in Arabic. The combo of the earlier umbilical cord and the angry cabbie was too much for me to deal with in one afternoon.  I rushed out, leaving my bottle of wine inside the cab as it sped off.

At dinner, I joked with the others about the lost bottle of wine, but we toasted each other nonetheless with a new bottle.   At the end of a delicious meal, the waiter came with the check.  I reached in my back pocket, and the wallet was not there.  I didn’t only leave the bottle of wine in the cab.  I also left my wallet.

Talk about a pain in the ass.  I didn’t care about the money; there was only $50 inside.  But what about the credit cards and my driver’s license?  My library cards?!

My mother reminded me that I was flying to Los Angeles in three days.  Could I fly without identification?  Luckily, I remembered that I brought my passport to Queens, just in case I met a Parisian model in my local Flushing McDonald’s, and she wanted to bring me to France to meet her parents.

A week after I returned to Los Angeles, I received a phone call from some woman in Manhattan named “Katie.” She found my wallet in the back of a cab, and since she worked in TV news, she asked her research department to track me down in California and return it to me.

The envelope arrived with no return address.  I wondered, just like you — was this Katie Couric?  All my cards were in the wallet, but the fifty dollars were missing, so I seriously doubt it was Katie Couric.  She would not swipe my fifty bucks.

That’s the end of that story.  Other bloggers give advice on how you can find happiness. I give you a half-baked tale of an umbilical cord, an angry cabbie, and lost wallet.

I still wonder what happened to that bottle of wine.

I had hoped to find some good blogging material once I came to California, but no.  I’ve been in Los Angeles a couple of weeks now, and while there are moments of humor and pathos, things have been pretty uninspiring.   On Twitter, everyone who lives in Los Angeles is always having lunch with important people. My only celebrity encounter is that I almost rammed into the automobile of one of Clint Eastwood’s producers in the Warner Brothers lot.  But I doubt you have not interest in that incident.  There is nothing sexy about it.   Didn’t even see Clint Eastwood.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, I have continued to enjoy my new hobby of taking heavily filtered Istagram photos.   Unfortunately, the consensus is that my friends enjoy the photos I took in New York City far better than the ones I’m shooting in Los Angeles. There are a number of reasons for that, the most important being is that it is difficult to do street photography when you are stuck in your car 90% of the time!

One day, I became so desperate to find some “action” to shoot, that I took a walk in a residential area in the San Gabriel Valley, a neighborhood where I was staying with a friend.  Across the street from my friend, I encountered three adjacent mailboxes.  For some reason, maybe because I never owned a stand-alone mailbox myself, the mailboxes captured my attention.  I took a quick photo with my iPhone.

A half hour later, there was a knock on my friend’s door. It was the POLICE!  The owner of the house with the mailboxes saw me take the photo.  She was worried that I was casing the joint and called the cops.

I explained to the police officers that I was not a criminal, only a online photographer intrigued by the visual symmetry of the three mailboxes, and they seemed to buy my story.  Thank God I wear glasses and I’m not African-American.  I gave the officers some Christmas cookies, and they left. In NYC, I took photos of gang members on subway platforms without incident.  In the LA suburbs, I was almost arrested for taking a photo of mailboxes.

Another lame story.  I apologize.   You want to hear about successes, not failures.  That I’m a keynote speaker somewhere.  But sadly, no.  I have nothing to say.

It’s embarrassing to say, but I’m miserable. I returned to Los Angeles because it was time to finally move out of house I shared with Sophia, finalize the divorce, and get my own apartment (and also not live with my mother anymore!)

Should I live in Los Angeles or New York? I torture myself with that question, but I’m sure you have your own problems and don’t want to hear me kvetching.

When I first arrived in Los Angeles, I thought it was better to stay over at a friend’s house. So I did,  in the neighborhood where I was almost arrested during the infamous “mailbox incident.” I felt a little self-conscious staying in the house during the holidays, especially when he was working and his parents were visiting from Japan.

One day, I got bored writing my screenplay. I was also feeling lonely, like many others during the holiday season.  I called up Nicole.   Nicole is this woman from Brooklyn who I had a one-night fling over the summer.  It’s a long story, and you would be falling asleep if I told you the details.

It was nice to talk to Nicole over the phone. I told here that I was feeling isolated being in the suburbs where I was deemed a dangerous criminal for my iPhone activities.

“I like your iPhone photos,” she said, and then suggested that I make believe that she is riding me in the bed. I said, “OK.”

A little while later, as the tension built during this phone exchange —

“Uh, I think I have to…” I said.

“Go ahead.”

I looked around the room.

“Jeez. There are no tissues or napkins in this guest room.”

“Nothing? That’s not very hospitable for visitors.”

“I don’t think they expect visitors to be doing this.”

“Go the the bathroom and get tissues there.”

I peeked through a slit in the door and saw my friend’s parents watching a Japanese soap opera in the living room. There was no way to reach the bathroom without walking past them.

“I can’t leave the room,” I said.

“There must be something else.  Use your sock,” she suggested.

“I’m not going to come into my sock. I just bought these socks!”

“You must have something made of paper in that room.”

I looked on the bed and saw my unbound first draft of the screenplay.

Anyway, I’m not sure I should continue with this story. It’s that whole branding thing. I hate that about blogging nowadays. Everything you write suddenly become part of your “brand.” It’s like you can’t say “I hate gay people” or “fat people suck” anymore without someone unfollowing you.  I want to be judged on what I do, not what I say.

I am a good man. In fact, I am so good, that I when Sophia called me a few days, saying she tripped on her laptop cord and broke a toe, I immediately went back to Redondo Beach to help care for her, even though we are on the verge of finalizing our divorce.

Of course, things went quickly downhill when we drove to Trader Joe’s and I offered to wheel her around in her mother’s old wheelchair so she wouldn’t have to put pressure on her foot.

As I wheeled around, danger around every corner, we argued over which direction I should go and how fast I should be wheeling her, and it all seemed like a very very bad movie, and I started acting like an asshole, and by the time we reached the frozen food section of the store, we remembered why we were divorcing. It probably didn’t help that Nicole called while I was wheeling Sophia around, pissed at me for something I’m not going to tell you about, and promptly told me that she didn’t want to talk to me ever again.

That night Sophia and I both slept twelve hours.  She slept in the bedroom.  I slept on the couch.  The next day, we felt calmer, and we laughed a little about our adventure in Trader Joe’s.  But it was laughter tinged with pain.

Perhaps now you can understand why I have been avoiding writing on this blog.  I have nothing to say.

Steve Jobs, My Father, and Yom Kippur

Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple passed away this week, and the internet exploded with admirers reflecting on how his vision impacted their lives.

Some talked about their first Mac, iPod, or iPhone, and how it transformed the way they communicated or listened to music.

Others sought meaning in Jobs’ passing, musing on death, accomplishment, originality, and vision. I poked a little fun at this hero worship on Twitter, writing:

“There is something odd seeing so many quotes about “being original” and “not living the life of others” being re-tweeted 1000x on Twitter.”

One short post about Jobs struck a nerve with me, written by a blogging friend, “Stay at Home Babe,” and titled “Why I Would Want to Die Young.”

I’ve already heard so much talk about how sad it is that Steve Jobs died at such a young age. I won’t argue with the sentiment, but it certainly got me thinking.

I don’t necessarily want to live until I’m as old as humanly possible. I don’t think I have to hang on until my hips are both replaced and I’m on a hundred medications and my brain has turned to mush.

I want to live a life worth admiring. In whatever capacity that is, for however long that is. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to find myself unexpectedly on my death bed, knowing that I didn’t do what I wanted or did less than the best I could with the time I had.


It is customary during the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for Jews to visit family members at the cemetery. My mother and I took the Long Island Railroad to visit the final resting place of my father at a Jewish cemetery in Nassau County.

It was two days before the death of Steve Jobs in California.

It was nice visiting my father on a crisp fall day. I was wearing a red sweatshirt. When I first saw my father’s tombstone I laughed, because as long-time readers of this blog might remember, I “crowdsourced” the epitaph on his stone after he passed away in 2005, until we collectively convinced my mother to include his favorite saying, “Be of Good Cheer” on the stone. My father might go down in history as the first person to have the saying on his tombstone voted upon by the Internet.

Another Jewish custom is to place a stone on the top of the tombstone; it signifies that “you were there.” I picked out two shapely and clean gray stones from the gravel road, and my mother and I placed them on top of the marble slat that marked my father’s final resting place.


I think about my father. I wonder about the dreams and goals that he had as a younger man. Did he do what he wanted? Did he do less than the best he did with the time he had on Earth?

I have no idea.

He worked as a physical therapist at a New York City hospital. He liked his job, but he complained about it during dinner time, especially about the internal politics of a city-run hospital. I think he might have preferred a cushier job at a private hospital, although he probably had more of an impact on the lives of the less-privileged by working at Queens General Hospital.

I assume that “Stay at Home Babe” was being honest in her views about dying young, but I suspect that she is in her late twenties, so she feels that she has plenty of time to accomplish everything in her iPhone scheduler. I think once you reach 35, you are pretty happy if you reached 1/3 of the goals you had in college.

Should we just kill ourselves if we don’t become multi-milionaires by 40?


It is easy to read the obituary of Steve Jobs and see it as a referendum on individuality, focus, and a life-well lived, but I think it is a mistake to think that success in life involves having a specific goal in mind and reaching it. Under that criteria, most of us end up miserable failures. The reality is that our real impact on others is not always easily noticed, or even appreciated. Not every worthwhile life is built upon achieving personal goals. We are all interrelated in so many different ways, that you can never be sure how your actions are affecting others.

On paper, my father will never match the accomplishments of Steve Jobs. Perhaps he didn’t achieve exactly what he wanted in life. But he had an impact on me. And his family. On his patients. In the way that he treated his friends and neighbors.

In social media, we speak a lot about influence. We consider someone with many followers as “influential.” But I have heard stories of strangers talking down someone on Twitter from committing suicide that night. No one remembers the names of those people. But that is real influence!

On Yom Kippur, in temple, a special prayer is added to the Shemoneh Esrei (Amidah), in which the community confesses their sins. All the sins are confessed in the plural (we have done this, we have done that), emphasizing communal responsibility for sinning. So even if you haven’t murdered anyone this year, you still say “We have murdered.”

When I was younger, I used to think this Yom Kippur tradition was bizarre and unfair, but now I appreciate the sentiment. The point is not to diminish personal responsibility, but to remind ourselves that human sins are frequently a by-product of the social bond gone sour. We are all at fault.

But this communal responsibility also has a positive side. We can all take pride when things turn out well.

Did you read Steve Jobs’ obituary? Did you come away thinking only about Steve Jobs? Read the obituary again, this time focusing on the community who helped mold him.

Steve Jobs was adopted:

Steven Paul Jobs was born in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 1955, and surrendered for adoption by his biological parents, Joanne Carole Schieble and Abdulfattah Jandali, a graduate student from Syria who became a political science professor. He was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs.

Steve Jobs was mentored by a nameless neighbor:

Mr. Jobs developed an early interest in electronics. He was mentored by a neighbor, an electronics hobbyist, who built Heathkit do-it-yourself electronics projects.

Steve Wozniak’s mother brings her son and Steve Jobs together as business partners.

The spark that ignited their partnership was provided by Mr. Wozniak’s mother. Mr. Wozniak had graduated from high school and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, when she sent him an article from the October 1971 issue of Esquire magazine. The article, “Secrets of the Little Blue Box,” by Ron Rosenbaum, detailed an underground hobbyist culture of young men known as phone phreaks who were illicitly exploring the nation’s phone system.

A mysterious hacker teaches Steve Jobs his tricks.

Captain Crunch was John Draper, a former Air Force electronic technician, and finding him took several weeks. Learning that the two young hobbyists were searching for him, Mr. Draper had arranged to come to Mr. Wozniak’s Berkeley dormitory room.

An Intel executive backs Apple with $250,000.

In early 1976, he and Mr. Wozniak, using their own money, began Apple with an initial investment of $1,300; they later gained the backing of a former Intel executive, A. C. Markkula, who lent them $250,000.

Did any of these individuals achieve their own personal goals? We don’t know. But there is reason to believe that without these people crossing the paths of Steve Jobs, that he wouldn’t have achieved HIS goals. Again, we don’t know for sure, but would you now want to tell that dorky hobbyist neighbor who mentored Steve Jobs that he would have been better off dead since he didn’t achieve his goal of building a spaceship for NASA? You never know when your action can have an earth-shattering effect on another. It is quite possible that a friendly hello in a supermarket can change the life of the other person. You just don’t know.

Not everything is about YOUR goals.

My father was a loved man. He didn’t make that much money. I’m sure he wished he did better financially. He didn’t get any obituaries written about him in the newspaper. But I know he helped many people with disabilities to walk, and perhaps they went on to do great things spurred on by the care that they received from my father.

I am super-impressed by the vision of Steve Jobs and what he achieved in his short life. But I am just as impressed with someone who lives life, perhaps NOT achieving every single one of their dreams, but loves life itself, and sees it as special. Being kind to others may not get you a mention in the New York Times, but it is a quality that is as essential to the well-being of the community as an iPad. And that it something I try to remember as I live my own life. Thanks, Dad, for teaching me that lesson.

My Week According to Me, 9/16/11

As sure as a Republican candidate saying something stupid during a nationwide debate, summer changes to fall, and I just took out out a sweater stored in the back of my closet.  I am currently in New York until — I think — November 1st, when — I think — I will return to Los Angeles.  Maybe.  It depends on work.  And money.

As a quick recap, just in case you missed a few episodes of the soap opera,  Sophia and I filed for divorce.  There are still some loose ends to figure out, like moving out of the house, and joint auto and medical insurance.   Maybe California is smart to have a six month waiting period before it is all final because it takes six months just to unravel the ties that bind.  Sophia and I are on good terms, except for the times that we discuss subjects like moving out of the house, and joint auto and medical insurance.   For now, it is healthier that we are 3000 miles away from each other.

On Monday, I attended my once-yearly game of the New York Mets with my friend Rob.  The Mets lost, even though they played the Washington Nationals, a team that is worse than the Mets.

But it was fun to just sit in a half-empty stadium, drinking overpriced beer and eating hot dogs, watching a game where the only importance was to see who which team was going to be eliminated from the pennant race first.

It was Taiwanese Heritage Night at Citifield.   Fans came waving Taiwan’s flag, director Ang Lee threw out the first pitch, and a terrible Taiwanese rock band performed during the seventh inning stretch.

I was proud to see another new immigrant group disappointed by the New York team that is not the Yankees.  Bring your huddled masses to our shores, oh Miss Liberty, where the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks, the Germans, the Cubans, the Taiwanese, can all have Heritage Nights at Citifield and watch a crappy baseball team lose another game.

I love this old Pepsi sign at Citifield.

When I posted it on Twitter, I was immediately followed by @pepsico.   Today, as I was walking in the Village, I noticed this:

I think I might also send this to @pepsico on Twitter, so we become buddies.  Don’t tell me that I don’t have any kickass networking skills?  If I keep up this pandering, I might be a Pepsi Blogger Ambassador any day, annoying you with Pepsi tweets all day.   Note:  please don’t tell @pepsico that I still ask for a “Coke” at ALL fast food joints, forcing the cashier to say for the 100th time that day, “We only have Pepsi,” with my inevitable reply being, “OK, fine. Pepsi. Whatever.”

On Tuesday, I met an old friend visiting from Montreal, and we ended up making out in a parked car at a Holiday Inn near JFK.   It was an eye-opening experience, since I had never made out in a car before, not owning one until I moved to Los Angeles and bought an old Toyota Corona.   Alas, things are too complicated.   Life is complicated.

One friend told me that I should wait six months before dating.  Another said to have as much sex as possible as soon as possible.  Can I compromise and go for three months waiting period with just a little sex?

On Wednesday, I met Marinka at her favorite bar/restaurant in the village.  While she insists that she loves this restaurant because the food is good, I have a feeling she is fond of it because they refill her wine glass with her having to ask.  We were joined by the delightful Margaret from Nanny Goat in Panties, who regaled us with stories of her glamorous life now that she is officially CBS Sacramento’s Most Valuable Blogger of 2011!

You also might notice that after a two and half year hiatus, I have reemployed my Blog Crush of the Day into action.  You can see it both on my sidebar and my links page.

My intention is simple:  to remind myself about all the special people in blogosphere, and how they have enhanced my life through their writing, friendship, or kindness.

My first three “Blog Crushes” are Schmutzie, V-Grrrl, and Slouchy.

The Hole in the Ground

When you are stuck underground for a long time, in the darkness, under the grass and dirt and flowers, not dead but fully alive, all vital signs working except for your sense of reality, your first sighting of a pinhole-sized ray of light coming from a point above will not be a celebratory event.  It will be a message of fear.  Some ONE or some THING is telling you that there is a way out.  But you don’t want a way out.  You wouldn’t be sitting flat on your back in the cold dark dirt if you wanted a way out, right?

But a hole has opened.  And every day, this uneven circle will grow larger, the light will burn stronger and more focused, and the heat of the sun will create thirst and emotion in your still-alive body, forcing you to climb out of the black hole onto firm land and fresh air.  You will have no choice.  Better to do it now.

Once outside, in the slight breeze, you may recognize your surroundings, and you may not.  You have been under the earth for a long time, and your head will be dizzy.  You will not know for how long you were lying in the dirt, watching the ants as they paraded in front of you, like little soldiers.

Don’t move.  Just stand there, next to your hole — and wait.   Someone will pass by, seeing you naked and dirty, your knees bloody and scraped, and offer you some help.  It will be a nice older man, or better yet, a young woman carrying a bucket of well water, and she will offer you a drink.

“Why were you in that hole in the ground?” she will ask you.

“I dunno.” you will answer.

Good.  Be honest.  There is no reason for you to lie or weave dramatic stories.  You are a man who just clawed his way out from inside a hole in the the ground.  Why bother with tall tales?

“It must have been very uncomfortable and painful to be stuck in there,” she will whisper sympathetically, pouring the water into your cupped hands.

At that moment, you will feel the pain.  Her mere mention of the anguish will unleash the burning knife in your spine, your head, and your heart. Language has that terrible effect.  The agony will be acute because this is the first time you have felt that long-forgotten pain, the shivering that caused you to bury yourself in that hole in the ground on that fateful day.

What happened on that day?  Why did you hide yourself away from the goodness of Life?  You will not remember, but now you have returned.  You are standing on your own feet, upright.   That is a start.  It is time to live with the pain.

Drink the healing well water and then, using the bucket, wash yourself clean.

One Word

David’s “The Anger of Achilles”

I’ve been upset the last few nights, sleepless over something rather innocuous — a writing prompt that I saw on someone’s blog:

“Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word.   Explain why you’re choosing that word.”

I saw a few of the responses from other writers, many which were about commercial success, accomplishment, or internal transformation towards a healthtier lifestyle or mindset.

When I tried to truthfully come up with my one word, all I could come up were words like illness, death, frustration, and loss.

This made me angry.  So much so, that I haven’t blogged in five days, not knowing what to do with this odd feeling sitting in my gut.  I’m not comfortable with the emotion of anger.  I’m also hosting The 2010 Blogger Christmalhijrahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert on December 15, and I was fearful of creating a negative vibe on this blog.   After all, what type of Holiday concert impresario feels, of all things, like a Scrooge?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love working with you on the concert.  Hearing your voices gives me immense joy.  But my negativity was scaring me.

Many of my friends are believers in positive thinking.   I tried to re-frame my relation to my past year by changing my one word to something more uplifting.   Rather than seeing 2010 as a year of death (both of my in-laws), I decided to use the word “strength.”  Sophia and I endured the year, despite the long hospital visits, the changing of the bed sheets, the decisions made, and the funerals attended.  I was “strong” enough to make it through the year in one piece, despite marital woes and graying hair.  It just seemed an insult to the memory of those that passed, to interpret the year in a positive light.

All year, I have been obsessed with the popularization of the word “branding.”  Perhaps branding should be the entire internet’s choice of one word to represents 2010.  While there are different interpretations of what this word “branding” means, I see it as more appropriate for consumer products like print cartridges than the world of living, breathing, human beings.   Once we sell ourselves like soap,  we are forced to be unrealistically upbeat, “inspirational,” and photoshopped.  I just cannot “market” 2010 as “strength,” even to myself.

So what should be my one word?  I’m afraid of telling you that 2010 — to me — was mostly about “death” and “anger.”  I know that sounds harsh, and it is embarrassing to admit.   We tout authenticity and honesty, but I have a feeling that we mostly day that to sell our seminars.

There is no post more symbolic to me on this theme than my very first post of 2010, written on January 3, 2010, titled “The Incident in the Car.”  I was still in New York at the time, not aware of what my year was going to present to me.  I decided to start my new blogging year with more focus on writing, more like a memoir, hoping to give my readers a fuller view of my life experiences.  Without my fanfare, I spun a small memory piece about high school-angst.  This short post caused a storm of outrage against me, with total strangers coming to my blog accusing me of crimes akin to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.  I was also unfollowed on Twitter by several bloggers, including some who later touted “authenticity.”  Others were quick to comment on that day because of the “buzz,” but never once showed up on my blog for the rest of my difficult year, more concerned with a completely minor event from decades ago than anything to do with my current life.

Was I wrong to bring up this somewhat dramatized tale of overheated teenage frustration and insensitivity, especially to an audience of women?  In terms of blogging and branding, probably YES, that is if I see my blog’s goal as primarily a PR tool.

When I look back over my archives, I get angry over the experiences of my last year.  It wasn’t a good year, and maybe it is too soon to learn any “positive lessons.”

I tossed and turned the last few nights, not sure whether to talk about my negative emotions.  I was worried that you will brand me as “Neilochka, the angry guy,” or “Neilochka, the one associated with dead people.”  The biggest danger to this increasingly online world is that we easily mix up words and images with action and intent.  If I write a fantasy post about sleeping with ten women, you can not really judge my real-life actions, just my rather bizarre mind.  Even in my most lurid fantasies, I am always polite, even serving breakfast the next morning to all ten of these women.   If you want to judge me solely on my writing, that is your prerogative, just as it is your right to publicly praise another writer, when you know that he is — in reality — sending pornographic photos to all of your friends.  We live in a bizarre world where image is more important reality.

We should remember — as writers — that the first great book, if not the very first book of Western Civilization is Homer’s Illiad.  And the very first word of that book is “menis” — anger.

Menis means “anger, wrath, rage,” and the menis referred to here is specifically that of Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Homer’s epic poem about the Trojan War. Achilles is enraged at Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army, for taking one of Achilles’ hard-won prizes, a slave girl, Briseis; moreover, menis is what the entire Greek army is feeling, as the Iliad is set in the tenth year of the Trojan War. The Greeks have been away from home for all those years and are restless and uneasy about the outcome of the war, and about whether they will ever return hom; their rage simmers just below. Achilles’ anger over his slighted honor is so great that he almost kills Agamemnon and is stopped only when Athena, the goddess of wisdom, pulls him by the hair and stops him.

What I like about ancient literature, including the Greeks and the Hebrew Bible, is that the  writers don’t sugar coat human experience.  There is death and joy standing side by side, like Achilles and Agamemnon.   Anger and celebration.  War and love.  Writing is not only an imitation of a glossy Martha Stewart magazine.

I’m not the best person to be pontificating about writing the full range of human emotion.  I’m mostly a light, funny writer.  That is a large part of my personality.  But I would hate to shy away from dealing with my three-dimensional life, because I would be judged, or it didn’t fit my “brand.”

Which brings me back to the Holiday Concert.  I’ve been hosting this concert for five years, and this is the first year where I feel a bit disconnected.  I am trying hard to reconnect with my Holiday Spirit.  But it doesn’t really matter.  I enjoy participating, and I love to see YOUR  joy.

If I can attempt to be inspirational for a moment, I would like this year’s concert to be able to embrace our inner Scrooges.   Not everyone has large extended families, or colorful Christmas trees in their homes.  Christmas can also be a lonely time for many.  Why should we hide these feelings? I prefer — at least this year — to take my inspiration from Homer’s Illiad rather than some internet guru.  In Homer’s world, anger and frustration were allowed.  Anger is even the honor of being the first word.  As I reflect on 2010, it will be impossible for me to solely focus on joy, even during the concert.  I will be a bit of a Scrooge.  Shit happens.  There will be those that we have lost.  Opportunities missed.  Friendships broken.  We should be able to celebrate the good — and mourn at the same time, not hiding the “negativity” in the a locked closet like a batty uncle, but embracing it as the stuff that makes us human, like the Greeks would, soldiers away from home at war, restless and uneasy with the future.

Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word — Anger.

Feeling it For the First Time

Surprisingly, I’ve been doing quite well in New York, away from Sophia.  We’re still talking on the phone, exchanging stories of the day.  But not every day.  I have no idea what she has been up to this month.

A few weeks ago, I called Sophia with an odd request — change my Twitter password so I wouldn’t be able to get on and waste so much time, chatting for hours about nonsense such as the correct pronunciation of “gyro.”  It was time to do some real honest WRITING.

I cheated.  I fought the law, and I won. I discovered that the Twitter app Brizzly uses a separate password, so I was able to beat the system the entire time, continuing to trade barbs with Redneck Mommy.

During the last few days, there was some internet drama going on involving other parties (when isn’t there?) and it made me feel a little sad and depressed that my mind was being polluted with this information.  I decided it was time to try my detox again.  So, I deleted Brizzley, making me sans Twitter.  I became a free man.

The first day it was a relief.  Who needs to hear all these voices talking at me?

Today is day two.   And I’m ready to be chained to my computer again.   Without these virtual “others” around — I’m finally feel the loneliness and isolation of, well, being alone.  The voices of Twitter were protecting me, distracting me from feeling.  I’m still doing OK — I’m glad that I am here — and it is better for Sophia, too — but I’m feeling it for the first time.

But I picked the right person to change my password.  There is no way I could ever convince her to change her mind.

In all honesty, I’m an only child, and comfortable being by myself, alone with my words, probably even more than most of you.  But like they say in the Bible, “Man is not good until woman hands him an apple.” (my translation)  And your mother doesn’t count as this woman.   And I’m not talking about “that” apple either, a real apple.  You know, not the real shiny apple with names like Delicious or Fuji Apple.  You get what I’m saying?

Morning, December 1st

Last night, I had a little trouble falling asleep because I was laughing to myself so much over my last post. I know it probably wasn’t that funny to you, but the absurdity of the premise struck a nerve in me, and I could not stop giggling. That was a post I might have written as a twelve year old, if I had my adult brain.

At 5AM, I walked my mother down to her cab. She is going to the airport, en route to Florida for the winter. Even though the flight is not until 7:30AM. This is the craziness I have dealt with my entire life. Always show up two hours EARLY — just in case.

The house is now quiet. Sophia and I have NOT been getting along in our phone conversations. I feel mildly depressed. But also excited about new possibilities. But also worried, which probably doesn’t surprise you. While it is great to have my own space, events are forcing me back into reality, having to ponder my life again, rather than avoiding it.

My Current To Do List, October 2009

(in order of immediate importance)

  1. Write This Script and Send to LA
  2. Exercise More
  3. Read Kate Inglis’ Book
  4. Make A Lot More Money
  5. Visit My Friends
  6. Move in, Resolve Things, or Get a Divorce From My Wife
  7. Make Better Choices
  8. Put Up The New Masthead that Schmutzie Made For Me Two Months Ago
  9. Touch a Naked Woman
  10. Buy a Rice Cooker To Make Better Rice
  11. Floss Every Night
  12. Look for a Therapist
  13. Submit a Story to a Publication
  14. Decide To Live in NY or Los Angeles
  15. Get My Own Apartment in New York or Los Angeles
  16. Get An Agent in NY
  17. See More Theater
  18. Get Netflix
  19. Learn to Make A Really Good Noodle Kugel
  20. Visit the South
  21. Blog Better
  22. Learn How to Use All the Buttons On My Camera
  23. Attend BlogHer 2010
  24. Catch Up on Mad Men
  25. Add More Apps to My Iphone

105.  Spend More Time On Twitter

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